It has branches in some 50 countries. It has members of parliaments and city councils. The Pirate Party, founded only five years ago, is today's fastest-growing party among voters under 30. Its core message: internet piracy should be legal.
In fact, party founder Rick Falkvinge ("falcon wing" in Swedish -- Falkvinge invented the name) tells Metro, internet piracy is good for society. But the Pirate Party wants to be taken seriously as a political party, not just a protest movement. Now Falkvinge, in his new role as the party's "evangelist," is developing its policies in heavyweight areas like foreign and defense policy. "We're the new green movement, the new socialist movement," he says.
"Pirate party": isn't the very name a provocation?
It's not so much a provocation as it is a very strong and powerful branding. The Spanish Pirate Party said it best: if we don't call ourselves Pirate Party and define what it stands for, we'll be called a pirate party anyway and not get to define what it stands for. If these people are calling us pirates for defending civil rights and freedom of speech, then we're proud of being pirates.
Is piracy the new way of life?
Every now and then there's a value survey of 17-year-olds. It's very good barometer of how polices will change within the next 30 years, because once you reach 17, your general values tend to stick with you throughout your adult life. For the past several decades, the top issue in 17-year-olds' lives has been the environment. As a result, we've seen successful green parties established throughout Europe and the rest of the world. But that changed in the very last survey. In that survey green issues are no longer the top issue. Privacy, transparency and freedom are. In the 1960s the keywords for the youth were peace and love. Today it's openness and free speech.
Peace and helping the environment are worthy goals. Is having the right to take someone else's copyrighted music really in the same league?
Absolutely! Music is not a property right, or we wouldn't need copyright laws because property laws would be enough. Today's music monopoly hinders innovation. It prohibits people from speaking their minds. The copyright monopoly goes against the postal secret, the rights of reporters to protect their sources, and the freedom of expression. Many people started realizing what was happening When the British record industry association sued the largest Irish internet service provider for the right to install wiretap equipment in their core switches. We're talking about a private industry commanding to wiretap the entire population without any suspicion just because they entitled to. That's when you realize how at odds civil liberties are with this monopoly regime.
Isn't it instead an example of how drastic times require drastic measures? Do you have any sympathy with the music industry?
Of course I do. Time and time again, as technology evolves, industries become obsolete. When households were electrified in the 1930s, the ice distribution industry was the largest industry most major cities. The whole industry just disintegrated within a couple of years as people bought refrigerators. There are personal tragedies involved whenever an industry goes obsolete. But at the end of the day, that's progress. It's about replacing existing skills with new ones. Any entrepreneur in a market economy sees his task as making money despite whatever constraints exist. You don't get to dismantle civil liberties even if you can't make money otherwise -- or perhaps especially if you can't make money otherwise.
Do you think the music industry will become obsolete?
You have to distinguish between different facets of the industry. The distribution industry has already gone obsolete. You can't charge 93 percent of a pie for moving digital information from point A to point B. That's not just obsolete; it's repulsive. However, there are many services for artists, like mixing and remixing, that I think will not just survive but prosper. And it will allow artists determine the services they need, rather than being stuck in this chokehold.
The U.S. bill SOPA targets illegal file-sharing. Why, exactly, is the Pirate Party opposed to such legislation?
It's a bill that doesn't require burden of proof. It allows a private industry to point at a competitor and shut down that company's income, website, its entire ability to make itself heard. Such a law is abhorrent to any country claiming to be democratic.
Don't you feel sorry for all the artists who're losing income because of piracy?
I don't feel sorry for them at all! Musicians don't sell records. Record labels sell records. Musicians' income has risen 114 percent since the launch of Napster, and 28 percent more musicians are making money on their artistry. The people who're making less money are the middlemen, who used to take a huge cut on the artists. They've become obsolete. They've had their golden age and made their money on the work of others. I don't feel sorry for them at all. And under no circumstances should they be allowed to dismantle freedom of speech to make money. Kick those bastards out of the market right away!
The Pirate Party doesn't have a policy in the major policy areas: foreign policy, defense, economy. Why should we take it seriously?
Any party that has spread to more than 50 countries and is becoming the largest party Afro the demographic under 30 is here to stay. Let's look at all the major political movements: the liberal movement 120 years ago, the labor movement 80 years ago, the green movement 40 years ago: they started as protest movements. The idea was, "we don't really know what we want, but we don't want this." The green movement, for example, was opposed to pollution, and after a while they formulated a policy. They expanded their narrow platform. Only when protest movements reflect on alternatives and formulate an ideology that reflects on all aspects of society do they really climb to power. The labor movement started as simply being opposed to exploitation by capitalists. We're going through this right now, but it takes a lot of time. The German Pirate Party has a come quite far in this process, and the voters rewarded them with 15 seats in the Berlin Senate. But we're getting there, and we're following in the footsteps of the previous political movements.
So you're the new labor movement?
Definitely. We'll be the next big political movement, following the liberals, the labor movement and the green movement.
And you're developing a foreign policy and a defense policy?
Yes. Our basis is information policy, and you can easily identify themes that would be directly applicable to foreign policy. Since we're looking at transparency and accountability, a starting point for foreign policy would be to encourage citizens around the world to hold their governments accountable, to enable encryption for citizens, to distort wiretapping and eavesdropping by authoritarian governments. It's a a foreign policy right there!
What about the economy? How can you have an economic policy based on piracy?
When the labor movement arrived, it was accused of the same thing. "You can't start a party by demanding higher wages." The green movement was told they couldn't start a party because they wanted fewer chemicals. But it's a bit more complicated than that. It's not unserious at all to look at the immense monopoly deadweight and inefficiencies that come with monopolies. In our economies we're upholding economic deadweight at the expense of civil liberties. One of the best equalizers mankind has ever invented is the internet, and it also brings immense efficiency gains to the distribution of everything digitizable, be it culture or information. We're pushing to utilize these efficiencies. That's good economy!
What will happen when you have to take on actual political responsibility? Carrying out policies is different from complaining about something.
As long as we get 5-10% of the vote, we can influence perhaps one-fifth of policy. 10% is one-fifth of the majority. We won't be in a position where we determine policies until we get the number up to 30%.
Do you think you can?
I think we can realistically achieve 15-20% in two decades. 25% of people under 30 voted for us when we were still young and inexperienced. We're in the process of formulating a policy that derives from our deeper ideology. It will materialize over the coming years. But in the meantime, with 5-10% of the votes we can still influence policy in our core areas: freedom of speech, transparency and government accountability.
But protesting is more fun than sweating the details of a proposed law. Isn't this a point where the Private Party could stumble?
Of course. Every party that's not part of the government is a protest party. We used to be activists. We used to protests without the threat of replacing policy-makers. But we realized that they needed that specific threat. If you tell simply policy-makers that they're not doing a good job, they don't care! And they don't share our perspective on the freedom of information. We needed the threat of replacing them to make difference.
How often do you copy and share copyrighted material?
When the laws change, I'll tell you.
Previously published in Metro www.metro.lu